Rural women: The marjales of sa Pobla

marjalera‘, that’s what it’s called sa Pobla the woman who, before the mechanization of agricultural workbends back, shoulder to shoulder with the men, carrying out the hard agricultural tasks: from plowing and preparing the land to planting, watering, harvesting, threshing and bagging produce.

A profession, that of women marjalera, which lasted beyond working hours, from sunrise to sunset in the countryside, with the accomplishment of household chores, taking care of their children and the household kit; that is, with the duties of a housewife.

Among the peasant women of sa Pobla, the co-owners of the family farms and the day laborers stood out who, like the day laborers, were once hired in the early morning on the Plaça Major. From there, they went to the pit by bicycle or by car, carrying bread and some food in their bag to have a snack in the middle of the morning and to eat at noon. The daily wage received by women for food was always lower than that received by men.

The clothing worn by the marjaleres was practically uniform: espadrilles, black stockings, a long dress, sleeves, a veil-like scarf and a wide-brimmed straw hat. A garment that protected them from the sun’s rays but also from the dust and straw generated by some of this work, in particular threshing.

The important participation of the peasant women of Poblera in agricultural work is sufficiently documented, both in the rice fields of s’Albufera at the beginning of the 20th century and in the titanic work of reconverting the barren lands into productive orchards, thanks to the effort to make bring out the groundwater produced by the hard-working generation of 1910.

With the mechanization of agricultural work, which began to be introduced with the arrival of the tractor, in the middle of the last century, and continued with sprinkler irrigation, seed drills, threshers and harvesters, there has had a noticeable decrease in rural labor requirements. and the virtual disappearance of agricultural workers, except for casual jobs. However, there are still quite a few women involved in agricultural work, whether mechanized or more artisanal.

the historian Isabel Penarrobia Brandsin a work of study and documented research edited by the town hall of Sa Pobla under the title Sa Pobla en femení plural i singular, highlights the work carried out by women marjalera, among others his active participation in the cultivation of rice in the wetlands of s’Albufera, introduced in the last third of the 19th century. A culture that required a lot of labor, so much so that half of the day laborers in the city worked on these hard tasks that involved both planting and harvesting. The graphic sources that illustrate this report testify to the great participation of women in these tasks, their feet soaked and their skirts rolled up to their knees.

Going back in time, we see how Cardenal des Puig’s map of Mallorca from 1789, in the vignette dedicated to sa Pobla, speaks of the importance of the cultivation of hemp and flax, and reproduces the image of a woman working in the spinning of said textile plants. . Since the fourteenth century there is documentation of the cultivation of these two plants in Sa Pobla, which became the main supplier of this fiber in Mallorca.

In the elaboration of hemp to transform it into fabric, the hardest work, which consisted in struggling and breaking the fiber by striking it with force, was carried out by the men, while the women carried out the second threshing, more soft, as well as the corresponding hype. combing, spinning and weaving.

Likewise, the peasant women of sa Pobla also worked in other ancestral crops such as vines, harvesting almonds, figs and olive trees, almost exclusive jobs for women throughout the island, where they were called collidores .

Isabel Peñarrubia recounts that “with regard to cereal activities – wheat, barley, oats – closely linked to subsistence throughout the Old Regime, there was a distribution of jobs by sex”. Thus, the men drove the animals with the plow during the sowing, while the women followed behind, spreading the seed in the furrows. The women mainly devoted themselves to digging, building anthills, removing weeds and “spigolar”; that is to say the tasks of maintaining the fertility of the soil.

The men were mainly responsible for the harvest and the threshing, even if they also harvested, according to the multitude of glosses collected by Rafel Ginard in his Popular Mallorcan songwriter. glossessongs or tunes field work, which clearly express the lamentations and complaints alluding to the extreme hardness of the work.

During the first third of the 19th century and until the complete mechanization of field work, marjales remained present and active in all tasks; from plowing the land to sowing, irrigating, harvesting, threshing, selecting and packing the product.

Interested in the current rural life of our island, in its various aspects—agricultural, livestock, poultry, manufacturing or commercial—women continue to participate actively. What has changed, and a lot, are the different agricultural systems, the result of the enormous technological advances that have been applied to rural farms and their work in just one century.


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